PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – After five years of sniffing out land mines and unexploded ordnance in Cambodia, Magawa is retiring.
The African giant pouched rat has been the most successful rodent trained and overseen by a Belgian nonprofit, APOPO, to find land mines and alert his human handlers so the explosives can be safely removed. Last year, Magawa won a British charity’s top civilian award for animal bravery – an honor so far exclusively reserved for dogs.
“Although still in good health, he has reached a retirement age and is clearly starting to slow down,” APOPO said. “It is time.”
Magawa has cleared more than 141,000 square meters of land, the equivalent of some 20 soccer fields, sniffing out 71 land mines and 38 items of unexploded ordnance, according to APOPO.
APOPO decided that African giant pouched rats were best suited to land mine clearance because their size allows them to walk across mine fields without triggering the explosives – and do it much more quickly than people. They also live up to eight years.
Magawa is part of a cohort of rats bred for this purpose. He was born in Tanzania in 2014, and in 2016, moved to Cambodia to begin his career.
In retirement, Magawa will follow the same daily routine, except for going into the minefields, said APOPO spokeswoman Lily Shallom.
He’ll be fed the same food, have playtime every day and get regular exercise and health checks. He eats mostly fresh fruit and veggies, said Shallom, supplemented with small sun-dried fish. For 20-30 minutes a day, he is released into a larger cage with facilities such as a sandbox and a running wheel.